Brazilian director Gulu Monteiro’s staging of Georges Feydeau’s 1907 lighter-than-air farce is reminiscent of the transcendent genre-busting commedia dell’arte adaptations by the San Francisco Mime Troupe back in the ’60s. Monteiro imbues Feydeau’s ribald, plot-flimsy bedroom comedy with the slapstick humor of medieval Italian street comedy. This emphasis on shtick-laden physicality often impedes the intended rapid-fire plot machinations of these Feydeau folk, but the adroit antics of this excellent seven-member ensemble more than compensate.
The plot is almost inconsequential. Successful Paris businessman Chandel (Albie Selznick) has experienced a sudden lack of connubial ability, which has comely wife Monique (Clara Bellar) believing he must be indulging in extramarital hanky-panky. To test his fidelity, she instigates an entrapment scenario that involves her beauteous best friend Lucienne (Ann Michele Fitzgerald), a provocative perfumed letter and a supposed illicit rendezvous at an infamous hotel of ill repute.
This sets in motion a calamitous series of misadventures that includes Chandel’s handsome, narcissistic business partner Tournel (Jamie Donovan); Lucienne’s murderously jealous Spanish husband, Homenides (Charles Fathy); Chandel’s speech-impaired but lusty nephew Camille (Jay Ferguson); jovial family physician Dr. Finache (Herb Mendelsohn); alcoholic hotel clerk Poche, who looks amazingly like Chandel; and a menagerie of masked commedia characters who enliven all these amoral comings and goings.
Monteiro has inventively given each of his actors the task of portraying an upper-class sophisticate as well as doubling (sometimes tripling) as a masked working-class buffoon. In true commedia style, these irreverent folk take on the stylized characteristics of various animals as their antics overflow beyond the outdoor stage setting. At one point, they order the audience out of the open-air space and into an indoor setting that houses the aforementioned hotel bedroom shenanigans. Then it’s back outdoors for a speedy plot wrapup.
All this audience shifting wreaks havoc with the continuity of Feydeau’s basic plot, but the cast keeps the commedia action moving along. One successful comedy bit involves the hilarious antics of misanthropic hotel owner Feraillon (Ferguson), his aged former courtesan wife, Olympe (Fitzgerald), and their cleaning woman Eugenia (Bellar) as they try to spruce up the hotel for the expected guests.
The most memorable moments of this production are provided by Bellar and Fitzgerald, who offer telling portrayals no matter what persona they inhabit. Bellar’s quick-witted, coyly devious Monique is contrasted beautifully by her outing as Eugenia, the slow-moving but ever-observant cleaning lady who hates to clean. Fitzgerald’s transformations are even more amazing as she segues rapidly from Lucienne to sexually liberated maid Antoinette to Olympe, often within the same scene.
Selznick is memorable in his dual role as straight man Chandel and the ever-intoxicated Poche. Fathy is deliciously over-the-top, both as Homenides and as Antoinette’s oft-cuckolded butler husband, Etienne. The vocal antics of Ferguson’s Camille are as uproarious as they are unfathomable, and Mendelsohn proves quite effective both as the innocuous Dr. Finache and as pugnacious, sex-starved British tourist Rugby.